History of Tattooing in China
For centuries tattooing was an uncommon practise in China. It is still to some degree considered as a deformation of the body and is looked down upon. The first Chinese tattoos were used as a mark of disgrace. Tattoos were forced on prisoners as a punishment for their crimes and the practise was called Ci Pei. Convicts were exiled to faraway lands after having their faces tattooed so that people would know at a glance that they were convicts should they ever return. It was a punishment intended to shame. The Chinese translation of Tattooing is Ci Shen which means, to puncture the body. The Chinese believe that the body is a precious gift from your parents and should never be permanently altered in any way. Even in modern day China, tattoos are associated with the underworld and the triads and it’s only with recent Western Saturation that Chinese teens are beginning to get inked purely as a personal choice.
Throughout the course of history the Chinese nation has frowned upon tattooing as an art form and yet Chinese designs have always been a massive influence in modern tattoos and greatly desired in Western culture.
One of the reasons for this is that the Chinese are big on symbolism, every character, every design every picture has a meaning. They are a people immersed in stories and folklore and this transposes well into Chinese tattoo design.
Chinese designs tend to be colourful and bright, the lines are soft and flowing with emphasis on curvature and soft imaging. Team this with bold, vibrant colours and the artist can really go to town on the designs.
- Chinese Characters
You can’t write an article about Chinese tattoos and not mention Chinese Writing, or character writing. With a surge in popularity through the late nineties and into the new century, most tattooists came to know the Chinese alphabet by heart. David Beckham had his children’s names in Chinese writing and the world went mad. Everybody and his uncle wanted Chinese character tattoos.
In Germany there was a famous court case after an unscrupulous tattooist hit the headlines. The lady customer wanted a lengthy and poetic quote that would have been difficult to translate into Chinese Characters. She came out of the studio beaming with pride and happy with her three Chinese characters proclaiming to the world her love of—chicken noodle soup. Another customer asked to have ‘God is love’ tattooed on his arm but left the studio with the slogan, ‘Ralph is a Bitch.’ One lady asked for her daughter’s name in Chinese characters only to be forever branded a ‘slut.’ The moral of the story for consumers is, do your research. If you can’t write fluent Chinese, how the hell do you know what your body is saying to every Chinese person you pass in the street? As with any tattoo, be sure that what you’re getting is exactly what you want before your skin is punctured. It’s too late to change your mind afterwards and you can’t take your tattoo back as you could with a limp head of lettuce.
- Other styles of Chinese Tattoo
There is far more to Chinese tattoos than just character writing. The dragon has always had a special place in Western tattooing circles. There is something about a Chinese dragon and a tattoo that makes them go together like curry and prawn crackers. The Chinese dragon has a specific design; it has no wings and a long snakelike body, usually with five claws.
The Chinese dragon is a good character. Unlike Western beliefs, he is not aggressive and is seen as a benevolent beast that wards off evil spirits. He is closely linked to
- Good luck
Hence the reason that the dragon is paraded through the streets every Chinese New Year and at other times of celebration.
The person with the dragon tattoo should beware through. In china, if you wear a picture of a dragon it is considered to be very unlucky, however, it is perfectly acceptable to have the Chinese character for the word dragon displayed about your person.
Like the dragon, tigers are also big in Chinese tattoo designs. The Chinese tiger is a colourful and masculine tattoo to have. It signifies strength and power.
Another old favourite in Chinese tattooing is the Yin Yang symbol. It is called Taijitu in Chinese and signifies a union of opposites. The symbols are linked to balance and harmony in opposing ideas or personalities. The black or yin part of the design, indicates, the female, passivity, night, water and earth, while the white part is for the male, active, day, fire and air. They only exist in relation to each other. Without both parts; there is no correlation to bind them together. This makes it synonymous with lovers who often have matching designs or even one half of the whole, while their partner has the second half. The Chinese believe that everything has two aspects which impose on each other. His is symbolised by the white dot on the black part and Hers by the black dot on the white.
Many celebrities have Chinese tattoos the most famous of them is David Beckham, closely followed by his wife and Cheryl Cole.